Budget-Friendly Holiday Shopping Tips

The holiday season is one of the most joyful times of the year – and the most expensive. Between parties, travel, and gift giving – November through January can be a big weight on your wallet. While you may want to spend hundreds on gifts to treat your loved ones, your budget could be heavily impacted by doing so. If you play your cards right, you can still get everything you need for the holiday season at a reasonable price. Here’s how.

Take care of your bills and consider loan options

Ahead of shopping, it’s crucial to take care of all your essential bills first – like rent, utilities, and groceries. This way you know what you have left to spend on gifts and can make a realistic budget that fits within your means. If you’re working with debt that needs to be paid off, we recommend considering a consolidation loan to help reduce your monthly expenses by centralizing your high-rate credit card payments and other loans into one simple payment. At First Financial, we also offer a holiday personal loan that’s available through mid-January, to make paying for all the gifts on your list easier than ever.*

Make a holiday shopping list – and stick to it

One of the best ways to avoid overspending and impulse buying is to make a list of every single item you need to purchase. This includes who you’re shopping for, what the gift will be, about how much it will cost, which decorations you need for your home, food items you may need to buy for holiday baking, and more. Are you taking a trip to visit family or friends? You’ll also need to add travel expenses to your list and check it twice!

You don’t only need to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

There’s so much pressure for consumers to go ham on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but those big deals can cause impulse buys and have you end up spending more than you intended. Retailers can be clever and create deals that make it seem like you’re saving, but really they could be encouraging you to purchase more at once.

Instead, you should be strategic about when you’re buying your gifts. Sales happen over the course of the year, so there’s never a shortage of opportunities to buy. Refer to your shopping list and search when those items typically tend to go on sale. Of course, this method isn’t the easiest if you’re shopping last minute. Experts recommend instead focusing on finding savings on your everyday purchases around the holidays so you have more room in your budget for gifts.

Get decorations and small gifts at discount stores

You don’t need brand name items for your holiday decorations. You can find lights, garland, ornaments, cards, and gift wrap all at your local discount store for the best prices. Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Christmas Tree Shops, Big Lots, and outlet stores all have the tchotchkes and decor you’ll need to get in the holiday spirit without spending a small fortune.

Consider DIY gifts

Do you need to get gifts for your colleagues, extended family, teachers, or neighbors and are you cutting it close to your budget limit? Make something thoughtful or delicious instead. Bake cookies, make festive jams, create an ornament, paint a special wine glass, make homemade soaps or candles, put together a framed photo album or collage, thread up a scarf, or whip up your own bath bombs – the options are endless and thoughtful.

No matter how you’re celebrating this year, we’re wishing you a wonderful and safe holiday season!

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*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. APR as low as 9.99%, terms up to 24 months, minimum loan amount is $500, and maximum loan amount is $2,500. Loan payment example: A $1,000 Personal Loan financed at 9.99% APR for 24 months, would have a monthly payment amount of $46.14. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. One holiday loan open per member. Refinance option for prior holiday loan is available, see credit union for details. Maximum dollar amount able to borrow is based on creditworthiness and loan term. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a loan, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

How to Keep Holiday Shopping from Draining Your Finances

If you’re stressed and money is a worry this holiday season, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, 61% of Americans worry about extra spending during the holidays. Last year, 1 in 3 consumers went into debt after the holidays. Half of those consumers took 3 months to pay their holiday spending back, while others needed 5 months to pay it back.

Keep reading to find out a few ways you can financially prepare this year, and soften the blow to your budget.

Be sure to set a strict holiday budget

The first thing you want to do, is see if you can figure out how much you spent last year during the holidays and look at the gifts, food, and decorations you bought. Did your shopping last year leave you financially strapped and did it take multiple months to pay off? If so, you’ll want to rethink this year’s spending.

Create a gift idea list and approximate costs for this year. If you can’t afford the grand total on your monthly income after your necessities are paid (housing, utilities, food, gas, etc.) you will need to reconfigure your list. You also don’t want to stray from your list, once it’s done it needs to be done – don’t keep spending money on extra items.

Think of ways you might be able to cut back this year – do you really need to buy gifts for every person in your family or for all your friends? Perhaps in a larger family or a group of friends you can suggest doing a Secret Santa with an affordable purchase limit. This way you’re only buying one gift instead of multiple. In your group of friends, can you skip giving each other gifts and just go out to dinner or have a potluck meal together at someone’s home instead? These are all ways to keep your holiday spending budget down.

Take a look at your regular spending habits

In November and December you might need to cut back on your regular entertainment or dining out expenses in order to put those funds toward holiday gifts. How often do you go out to eat, stop at the nearest drive thru for a seasonal coffee, or use delivery services like DoorDash? These purchases can really add up. Try to cut back or cut them out altogether during the holiday season, and use that money toward your gift list instead.

The same goes for other entertainment expenses. Take a look at your subscription and streaming services – how many services are you paying for and are you even using them during such a busy time of year? Maybe pausing them for a month or two will pay for another gift on your shopping list.

Add to your monthly income

Do you have any extra availability on nights or weekends to pick up a part-time job for the holidays? Depending upon where you work, you may even gain an employee discount to help you save a little on gifts you can buy. You’d also be able to bring in additional income to help you afford holiday expenses.

Do your research on sales and discounts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up, but many retailers will also offer sales and promotions all season long. Be sure to research the retailers you plan to purchase from this year, follow them on social media and sign up for their emails. A lot of times, signing up for emails or texts gets you a first-time enrollment discount too. If you know you’d like to purchase gifts from a particular store, check your email in the morning and see if they have any promotions, coupons, or discounts going on that day.

Don’t forget your rewards credit card

Do you have a rewards credit card that offers cash back for purchases during the year or offers merchandise and gift cards? Login to your account before you start shopping for gifts. If you have money you can redeem for cash back, you can use these funds to buy gifts on your list. If your rewards credit card has a merchandise catalog you can redeem points earned for or merchant gift cards, cash in and you might be able to check some more off your gift list!

Our First Financial Cash Plus Cards offer cash back, merchandise, retailer gift cards, travel experiences and more – through uChoose Rewards. Learn more and apply today!**

Plan ahead for next year

It’s never too early to start saving money. If you don’t want to feel stressed about the holidays again next year, look for ways you can start saving now. For instance, at First Financial we have a Holiday Savings Account which can help you save for all your holiday expenses during the year. This account will allow you to have money deducted from each of your paychecks and sent to your Holiday Savings Account. Come next October, it will have accrued for you all year long and be available for you to use.

Don’t let the holiday season become stressful or a drain on your budget. With careful planning and saving – you’ll find you can afford the extra expenses this time of year often brings, and help spread some holiday cheer at the same time!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Click here to view full Rewards First program details. Some restrictions apply, contact the Credit Union for more information.

 **APR varies up to 18% for the Visa® Cash Plus Card when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

 

Hosting Thanksgiving on a Budget

Thanksgiving is a time for family, tradition, and, of course – lots of food. But if you’ve ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, you know the holiday can be a bit stressful and expensive. Between buying all the ingredients, spending time cooking, and making sure your home is ready to accommodate others – there’s a lot to plan and budget for.

The holiday season might already be a burden on your budget, and throwing inflation into the mix doesn’t make it any easier this year. According to the USDA, grocery prices have increased by over 13% from 2021 to 2022. That’s why it’s so important to consider cost-effective alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Here are 4 ways you can host Thanksgiving on a budget this year.

Plan your budget and menu

Before hosting any party or gathering, you should always create a budget. Don’t just consider which ingredients you need, but rather what you can reasonably afford. Start by listing out your expenses and income to determine what you have left to spend. From there you’ll have a better idea of what your menu will look like based on your budget.

Ahead of going to the grocery store, you should know what your main course will be and the types of sides you’ll be serving. Knowing any guest dietary restrictions will be helpful before you shop as well.

Shop generic brands

According to News 12 New Jersey, Thanksgiving turkeys typically take up 40% of the holiday budget and are one of the most expensive parts of the meal. And while turkey may be a holiday staple, you can always find a more affordable bird when comparing brand prices. For example, a ShopRite 24-pound fresh turkey could cost $40, Butterball is $52, and organic brands cost around $77. If you’re feeding fewer people, consider buying a turkey breast instead of the full bird. Also, don’t forget about your grocery store rewards or coupons. If you frequent ShopRite, be sure to take advantage of the free frozen turkey or ham you may be able to get this time of year.

Try something new

With a 28% cost increase per pound this year, you might want to consider nixing buying a turkey entirely. Sure Thanksgiving is all about traditions, but what better opportunity to start a new ritual with your loved ones – especially if it’s saving money? We recommend trying a different cut of meat like roasted duck, beef, or even plant-based options – all of which won’t be as heavily priced this time of year. You can even challenge yourself to try new cuisines by making Native American staples to honor the history of the holiday.

Turn it into a potluck

Get your guests involved and host a potluck! Sharing the burden of cooking not only saves you time, but it’s also easier on your wallet. Even if you don’t want to do a full-blown potluck, you can ask your guests to bring beverages or desserts. Start a conversation with your group to see what they would be comfortable bringing and make sure you have all the fixings for the main course, sides, and appetizers.

No matter what your plans are this Thanksgiving and holiday season, the team at First Financial is here to help with financial resources, accounts, loans, and more. Talk to us about becoming a member by calling 732-312-1500 or stop by our local branches.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

 

$5 in a base savings account is your membership deposit and is required to remain in your base savings account at all times to be a member in good standing. All credit unions require a membership deposit.

Managing Debt Ahead of the Holiday Season

Holiday music is starting to play on repeat in stores. Neighbors and friends will soon be lighting up their homes with festive decor. Shoppers are beginning to pick up gifts for everyone on their lists. The holiday season is almost here! And while this is an exciting time of the year, it can certainly be stressful on your wallet – especially if you have some lingering debt to pay off.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average person spent around $1,000 during the 2021 holiday season. And with inflation, it’s expected those prices will only go up. That’s why making sure your debt is under control before you start your shopping – will be key for many individuals. Here are our top recommendations for managing debt ahead of the holiday season.

Make and keep a holiday budget

Before you dive into those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, it’s best to understand your holiday budget. Not only do you need to consider what you’ll have to buy, but also what you can afford. This is how you can make a holiday budget based on your financial situation:

  • Determine your spending limit: Map out your regular expenses and see what you have left over. The goal is to stay within your means, so that means having a clear picture of your finances.
  • Create a list: Start by categorizing what you need to purchase (this includes gifts and wrapping, decorations, travel, food, etc.), and then build a list of who you need to get gifts for and what the items would be.
  • Research prices: Start looking online for how much these gifts should cost and then see where you can cut back.

Find ways to spend less

It’s easy to talk about finding all the good deals during the holiday season, but when the time comes – you might be tempted to get everything on your list as fast as you can. If you’re on a tight budget though, it will be worth it to put in the time and research. Retail experts say the pandemic has changed the way sales function during the holidays and the best deals won’t come just on Black Friday. Instead, they will happen on an item-by-item basis.

To catch these savings, we recommend downloading price-tracking apps like Honey and ShopSavvy so you don’t miss out. Other ways to save on holiday expenses are to shop at dollar stores for cards, gift wrap, and party supplies. If you plan to get anyone a gift card, you can find discounts on sites like Coingate, Raise, GiftCards.com, CardCash, and Gift Card Granny.

Debt repayment strategies

Before you start shopping, let’s make sure you’re addressing any unpaid debt you may have. The goal is to make sure you don’t put yourself further in debt when purchasing gifts for everyone on your list. Plus, you’ll want to have a plan for paying your holiday expenses off – rather than figuring it all out as you go. These strategies can help you pay off your debt faster.

  • Pay more than the minimum: Only paying the minimum on your credit card statement each month will make debt repayment take much longer. Plus, you’ll end up paying more in interest than what you initially borrowed.
  • Consolidate your debt: If you owe money on multiple credit cards, you should consider consolidating your debt into one credit card or loan with a lower interest rate.
  • The avalanche method: If you do have multiple cards with balances, try using the avalanche method – which focuses on paying off the card with the highest balance first.
  • The debt snowball method: This method will have you start by paying off the smallest debt first. Once paid in full, you would take those monthly payments and put them toward the next smallest outstanding debt.

At First Financial, we offer consolidation loans to streamline paying down debt so you can focus on one bill at a time.* Plus, you won’t have to worry about fees and interest rates from multiple credit cards! Apply online or stop by a branch location to learn more about our loan options. You may even want to consider transferring your other higher rate credit card balances, to one of our credit cards. We offer lower interest rates, plus cash back and rewards credit cards too!**

We wish you a fun, safe, and happy holiday season!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

 

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. Personal Loan repayment terms range from 12 to 60 months, and minimum loan amount is $500. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan or Line of Credit, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

**APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

 

 

 

Inexpensive Halloween Costume Ideas

Let’s face it – no one wants to buy an expensive Halloween costume they’ll only wear once. Sure, it might be easier to quickly put one together on the day of – but all those costume pieces can really add up. Plus, store-bought costumes can sometimes be of lesser quality and expensive at the same time. If you’re looking for cheap Halloween costume ideas for you and your family, we’re here to help. Here are some budget-friendly tips to get you inspired.

Consider a DIY costume

Put those artistic skills to good use by making your own costume this year! There are many ideas out there that you can work off of, no matter your skill level. While making a costume from scratch is a bigger time commitment, you’ll be extra proud of your finished product. Here are some themes to get you started.

  • Bag of ice costume: Use plastic bags to create the look of a bag of ice and make it into a family-friendly “ice ice baby” costume.
  • Butterfly costume: Whether you choose to create wings with fabric or by painting cardboard cutouts, you can certainly generate something unique.
  • Operation board game costume: Use felt fabric to create shapes inspired by the board game and then glue them to the costume.
  • Bat costume: Cut a black umbrella in half and use it as wings. Make sure to wear all black and add in ears as well.
  • Spooky ghost: Use white sheets and cut out eyeholes, or use white makeup and gauze to make yourself look extra eerie.
  • Mummy costume: Wrap yourself from head to toe in toilet paper and bandages to achieve this look.
  • Bob Ross and Happy Little Tree: You might have to buy some art supplies for this one, but the rest of this couple’s costume is pretty simple to put together.

Work with what you have

Sometimes the inspiration comes directly from your closet. Chances are, with a little creativity, you can put together a costume based on what you already have. Use some of these ideas for encouragement or take an inventory of your closet and see what you can come up with.

  • Lumberjack costume: If your closet is stocked with flannels, this look will be easy for you to achieve.
  • Hippie costume: Got some 70’s inspired clothes in your wardrobe? Create a hippie-inspired costume and add in some temporary butterfly or flower tattoos.
  • Nerd or gamer: Go the traditional route with glasses and suspenders, or dress up like a gamer with headphones and a game controller.
  • ‘Men in Black’ costume: You’ll need a black suit and sunglasses to look like you’re walking out of the popular Will Smith movie.
  • Bread winner costume: Got a few loaves of bread around and some old trophies or medals? Together they can make a truly ‘punny’ costume.
  • Brawny man costume: All you’ll need is a fresh roll of paper towels, a red flannel, and jeans!

Rely on costume makeup

Not all costumes need accessories to make a statement. Sometimes it’s the makeup that brings a costume to life. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a professional makeup artist to achieve some of these looks. You can make it as simple or as detailed as you’d like!

These looks can be easily achieved with a bit of makeup:

  • Any animal costume (cat, dog, mouse, deer, etc.)
  • A skeleton costume
  • Pop art character
  • Zombie costume
  • Alien costume
  • A (haunted) doll

No matter what you decide to wear or how you’re celebrating, we hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween! Want more budget-friendly tips? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for all the latest financial resources and advice.

Backyard Cookout Ideas on a Budget

The smell of a sizzling barbecue, sunscreen, and freshly mowed grass fills the air – summertime is indeed in full swing. And chances are, you’ve already been to a backyard cookout or pool party this season. If you’re looking to host friends and family for some grilling and fun, there are plenty of ways to have a party without breaking the bank.

Here are our top inexpensive grilling ideas for your next summer cookout!

Start budgeting and planning

Before you start shopping for grilling and party supplies, it’s always a good idea to start with a list of what you need to budget for. You may even want to consider having a maximum amount you can spend. Once you have a rough starting point of what you’d want for your cookout, you can determine what is essential and what is a wish list item.

Your cookout shopping list might look something like this:

  • The main course: Hamburgers, hotdogs, meatless alternatives, rolls, and buns
  • Side dishes: Vegetables, potato or pasta salad, coleslaw
  • Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, relish, and other grilling staples
  • Starters: Dips, chips, crackers, cheese platters
  • Desserts: Watermelon, ice cream, cookies
  • Beverages: Soda, water bottles, seltzer, iced tea, beer, wine, and fixings for cocktails
  • Utensils, napkins, cups, and paper plates
  • Insect repellent
  • Decorations & games
  • Grilling accessories
  • Cooler(s) and ice

Do you already have condiments at home? Or perhaps you don’t need to buy new decorations and outdoor games. Try to think where you can cut back from your list, and figure out how much you can afford for party expenses.

Stick to the grilling basics

Grilling enthusiasts might hand you a detailed list of pricey grilling accessories, but don’t be fooled. You actually don’t need as much as you think (even if those items are helpful). The only essential tool for grilling is wood, which enhances the flavor of the food you’re grilling or barbecuing. Another helpful instrument is a meat thermometer, which is relatively inexpensive. The internal temperature of your meat is the best way to ensure it’s cooked properly.

Consider alternatives and shop sales

If you’ve been in a grocery store recently, you’re likely aware that meat prices are soaring. This is forcing many shoppers to consider alternative options for their barbeque parties and meal plans. Don’t get discouraged just yet, though. There are a few different ways you can approach saving on meat costs.

Here are a few we recommend:

  • Explore meatless options: Stock up on veggie burgers, and look into cooking vegetable-based entrees (grilled portobello mushrooms are delicious, and some are as big as a burger anyway!). Also, have you ever tried grilled pineapple or watermelon? If not, it’s a must!
  • Make your own patties: Instead of getting more expensive pre-made patties for convenience, consider using ground beef and making your own.
  • Shop sales: This may go without saying, but you should always keep an eye out for sales on meat products – and try to buy less expensive cuts like chicken and turkey.

Make it a BYOB or potluck party

Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and relatives to bring their own beverages. Beer, wine, and liquor prices really add up fast – and your guests probably all have their own preferences. Another approach is to make your backyard cookout a potluck party. This way, each person can bring their favorite dish, and the guests can plan who’s responsible for bringing what. Either way, this will take some of the weight off your shoulders and will be easier on your wallet.

Make your own sauce

You don’t have to be a master chef to make a delicious rub or BBQ sauce. Plus, you likely already have all the ingredients in your kitchen. All you’ll need is salt, pepper, ketchup, vinegar, and mustard. For an easy to make rub – we recommend salt, sugar, pepper and paprika. Of course, your sauces can be a bit more flavorful if you’d like – try some of these homemade BBQ sauces for inspiration.

No matter the size of the cookout, there will always be ways to save on the final grocery bill. The first step is to determine how much you can actually spend, and then give yourself a cap. Without that max budget – your shopping list could get out of hand, and the idea is not to accumulate debt by having a fun summer get together. We hope you enjoy the rest of your summer and get to spend some backyard time with family and friends!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.